Explosions Rock Baghdad Near U.S. Offices

Sun Sep 12,12:09 AM ET

A U.S. soldier stands guard near a destroyed Humvee after a suicide attacker detonated a car bomb near it in Baghdad, Iraq (news - web sites), Sunday Sept. 12, 2004. The crater made by the impact of the explosion is visible in the foreground. U.S. casualties were not known although at least three civilians in a nearby car died. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

By HAMZA HENDAWI, Associated Press Writer

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Strong explosions shook central Baghdad early Sunday, and fighting erupted on a major street in the heart of the city near the U.S.-guarded Green Zone.

Rocket and mortar fire erupted about 5:30 a.m. and continued into the morning. Several rounds landed in the Green Zone, raising clouds of black smoke and triggering warning sirens.

The rattle of heavy machine gun fire echoed through Haifa Street, located on the western side of the Tigris river near the Green Zone and a "no go" area for international forces. A Bradley fighting vehicle caught fire and children climbed on top, cheering and dancing beside the flames.

U.S. soldiers took positions behind walls and trees along Haifa Street and residents milled about to watch the battle.

The early morning explosions followed a late-night barrage that rattled the capital. Three or four projectiles believed to be either mortar shells or rockets slammed into a group of apartment buildings across the street from the Palestine and Sheraton hotels, where many international journalists are based.

Col. Adnan Abdul-Rahman, an Interior Ministry official, said there were no reports of casualties. Earlier, mortars or rockets exploded near the Green Zone and at a U.S. base in northern Baghdad. No casualties were reported.

Meanwhile, an audiotape purportedly by key terror suspect Abu Musab al-Zarqawi boasted that Islamic holy warriors have humiliated the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq (news - web sites). It impossible to verify the authenticity of the audiotape, which surfaced Saturday, the third anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

In Basra, Iraq's major southern city, a bomb exploded outside a Saddam Hussein (news - web sites) palace that now houses a U.S. consular office. One person was killed and two were wounded, police said. The victims were believed to be Iraqis.

In Baghdad, a U.S. warplane launched an airstrike on militants loyal to rebel cleric Muqtada al-Sadr during a battle in the sprawling Sadr City slum.

The plane fired on a team of militiamen manning a machine gun, said U.S. Capt. Brian O'Malley of the 1st Brigade Combat Team. Residents reported that gunfire rocked the city before the attack; there was no word on civilian casualties.

"They spotted the team from the air ... and they engaged and destroyed the team," O'Malley said.

Elsewhere, insurgents kidnapped the family of an Iraqi national guard officer and burned his home northeast of the capital, Iraqi authorities said Saturday.

Kidnappers seized the wife and three children of Col. Khalis Ali Hussein on Wednesday, said Maj. Gen. Walid Khalid, the head of the Diyala provincial police force.

The incident in Khalis, 40 miles northeast of Baghdad, was the latest act of intimidation against security forces cooperating with the U.S. military. Insurgents consider the Iraqi police and security personnel to be collaborators.

In a separate incident in Khalis, gunmen killed a national guard officer, his son and their driver in a drive-by shooting Saturday, Khalid said. The men were traveling to Baghdad when the attack occurred.

North of Baghdad, more residents fled Tal Afar amid a siege of the largely ethnic Turkish city, where Iraqi and American forces say they are trying to root out hundreds of militants and restore government control, the military said.

The extent of the exodus was not immediately clear, but the military said the International Red Crescent was offering help and medical care to the displaced.

The campaign was part of a recently launched American effort to restore government authority to lawless areas of the country either through negotiation or by force.

In one city involved in a peaceful handover, Samarra, the U.S. Army reopened a bridge spanning the Tigris River. The main entry point into the city was closed after attacks on U.S. and Iraqi soldiers.

The bridge was open for three hours in the morning and was to reopen for another three hours in the late afternoon Saturday, said Maj. Neal O'Brien, spokesman for the 1st Infantry Division.

Under the agreement with the Americans, U.S. troops will oversee reconstruction and development projects while Samarra's leaders will do what they can to prevent attacks against them.

The U.S. military said Iraqi police raided a house north of Baqouba and arrested two Egyptian men, confiscating a large cache of weapons, including bomb making gear.

In Saturday's audiotape, the speaker noted recent battles between American forces and militiamen in the holy city of Najaf, indicating that it had been made recently.

The voice on the tape was similar to that of previous recordings of al-Zarqawi and used a similar style of rhythmic speech. There was no reference to the Sept. 11 attacks in the tape, titled "Where is the honor?"

"The holy warriors made the international coalition taste humiliation ... lessons from which they still are burning," the speaker said. His speech last about 25 minutes.